Heller visits Iraq, continues support for surge
After spending the weekend in Iraq, Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said politics, not the military, is where the mission may fail.
But Heller said in a conference call Monday morning that he believes the U.S. has finally found the right course.
“We spent four years trying to figure out what we were going to do in Iraq and didn’t figure it out until six months ago,” Heller said.
“I have much more confidence in our military men and women,” he said. “The biggest job is what’s going on politically. If this mission fails, it’s going to fail because of the lack of bringing all sides together.”
He said the situation is much more complicated – and local – than it appears from the U.S.
“I think for the first time, our military is starting to recognize that diplomacy is necessary. They can hold an area but they’re not going to solve any problems until diplomacy is done,” Heller said.
He said he believes the White House and Gen. David Patreaus realize now that “diplomacy is paramount at this point.”
“We talk about Syria. We talk about Iran. But when you talk about it in this country, you have to be speaking to the tribes,” he said.
Heller and five other freshmen congressmen spent the weekend in Baghdad and Ramadi in the Anbar Province. They were briefed on progress by Gen. Patreaus before touring both cities.
“They put us in places that, four months ago, you couldn’t have set foot in,” he said.
Unlike four months ago, he said, some semblance of normal life is returning in Ramadi, one of the cities the military has focused on during the “surge.” Heller said the city “looks pretty much like Germany did at the end of World War II.” But he said the market places are open and crowded.
“It looks like, in Ramadi, life is getting back to normal.”
He said another good sign is that at the moment the Iraqi army has more recruits than they can train.
Heller said the military has largely succeeded in driving the most dangerous extremists out of that city. But the complexity of trying to get the different factions and tribes to work together is what is preventing success in Iraq.
“In Anbar Province, there are 21 tribes and you’ve got to get the leaders of all those tribes to buy in,” Heller said. “I have some real concerns about how strong (the Iraqi) government is.”
Speaking from Ramstein Air Base in Germany before returning to Washington, D.C., Heller said the Iraqis he spoke to still want the American troops there. But he got conflicting messages when he talked to some of our troops. One Nevada soldier, he said, told him many Iraqis believe it’s time for the U.S. to leave.
“The Iraqi people are coming to a point where they think this is becoming an occupancy and they think it’s time to get out,” he said.
Heller said he will continue to back the “surge” until the report on it’s success or failure in September. Then, he said, he’ll decide whether to continue that support.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.